Drink Like it’s 1947: Cocktail Recipes from Hawai‘i Before Statehood

Lei Day, Paradise of the Pacific, Hawaiian Moonlight: our cocktail writer tries out cocktail recipes from Hawaii in 1947

Left: Paradise of the Pacific cocktail; right: Hawaiian Moonlight


Editors note: Recently, in digging through our magazine’s archives, I found an article from 1947 on cocktail recipes and okolehao: Writes the author, “[Oke] is said to be still cherished in very select cellars, but it’s sort of in a class with moonshine extra sec, vintage of 1776, or great-great grandma’s blackberry nectar. You know.” I sent the recipes to Randy Wong, our cocktail writer and tiki-drink tinkerer to test out.


What were our counterparts from more than 60 years ago imbibing? Would their favorite drinks stand up to modern palates and tastes? For the second question, I’ll save you the suspense: Yes, and then some.


I started with the Lei Day cocktail, made with okolehao, creme de menthe and absinthe (Surprise! Since Hawaii was not yet a state, absinthe was still available on the islands). For a modern day version of okolehao, you might want to check out Hawaiian Moonshine. While some cocktail experts suggest substituting okolehao with bourbon or even Scotch, I used Batavia Arrack: a 100-proof fermented sugar cane rum made in Indonesia, which has both a subtle smoky quality, the taste of fermented cane, a grassy, floral nose, and a slight tartness. Batavia Arrack’s ingredients seem a closer match to okolehao* than grain spirits like rye or bourbon.


Lei Day Cocktail

Original recipe

  • (Shake; cocktail glass)

  • ½ jigger white Crème de Menthe

  • ¼ jigger absinthe

  • 1 jigger okolehao (sub. bourbon)

  • Decorate with small stick of pineapple


My updated recipe

  • 2 oz Batavia Arrack

  • 1 oz white Creme de Menthe

  • 1/2 oz absinthe

  • Stir ingredients in a chilled mixing glass; strain into a chilled coupe.


The Lei Day was immensely drinkable; the corners of the sophisticated Batavia Arrack rounded out by Creme de Menthe. I stirred it for a silkier pour and spritzed the drink with pineapple bitters. A high-quality (housemade, even) creme de menthe is the secret to this recipe really shining.


Paradise of the Pacific

Original recipe

  • (Shake; saucer type glass)

  • ½ oz. tamarind or lime juice

  • ¼ oz. Grenadine

  • ½ oz. pineapple juice

  • 1 jigger okolehao (bourbon)

  • Bring up with soda

  • Decorate with small stick of pineapple


My updated recipe

  • 2 oz Batavia Arrack

  • 1.5 oz sweet tamarind juice

  • 1.5 oz fresh pineapple juice

  • 1 oz hibiscus grenadine

  • 1 dash (or 7 drops) orange flower water

  • Shake ingredients with ice; then strain into a chimney glass (or tiki mug) filled with crushed ice


This drink makes for a refreshing punch and deserves to be served over finely crushed ice in a tiki mug. Here, Batavia Arrack provides a grassy, smoky underpinning for the sweeter components. A splash a spicy ginger beer gives it a vibe not unlike Trader Vic's El Diablo. Garnish with a pineapple spear, lime twist, and a cinnamon stick (the ultimate straw) if you have one. For best results: fresh tamarind juice and grenadine.


(Fresh tamarind juice is hard to find but easy to make. Shell fresh tamarind in a container; cover with boiling water and let sit 10 minutes. Mash the pulp when it softens and then fine strain.)


Hawaiian Moonlight

Original recipe

  • (Shake; saucer type glass)

  • 1 oz. lemon juice

  • 1 jigger gin

  • 1 dash Curacao

  • 2 dashes absinthe

  • white of 1 egg


My updated recipe

  • 2 oz. London dry gin

  • 1 oz fresh lemon juice

  • 1/2 oz dry Curaçao

  • 1/8 oz absinthe

  • 1 egg white

  • Shake ingredients hard with plenty of ice, and tea strain into a coupe glass


Hawaiian Moonlight is similar to the classic cocktail White Lady, but I was surprised at how much of a difference the addition of a healthy measure of absinthe makes. Just this simple twist turned the drink into a crowd favorite. Drinking it under the moonlight on the lanai: purely optional.


*An article titled “The Romance of Okolehao,” penned by Charles S. Judd and published in the Star-Bulletin on Valentine’s Day in 1939, surmised that “real okolehao” was “distilled from rice, pineapples or sugar,” with a “far superior” version made using the “white, fibrous root of the ti plant” which would turn a “deep, molasses brown when baked underground.”


Find Batavia Arrack at the Liquor Collection and SWAM.